Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sullivan Agonistes

In one respect, Connecticut’s Lieutenant Governor’s position is similar to the office of Vice President of the United States, famously described by John Nance Garner, who gave up his position as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to run as Vice President in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, as “not worth a bucket of warm spit:” Both positions leave its occupants with lots of time on their hands.

Idle time sits heavily on the shoulders of Lieutenant Governor Kevin Sullivan, once president pro tem of the senate, now a wilting Napoleon at Elba, gnashing his teeth and plotting a return to power.

Like vice presidents, lieutenant governors preside over the senate and are traditionally support persons. But one can hardly expect Sullivan, a Democrat who once led the loyal opposition in the senate against former Governor John Rowland, to ease the way for current Republican Governor Jodi Rell. There is no future for a Democrat in that sort of sycophancy.

Both the governor and lieutenant governor came by their positions the old fashioned way: They inherited them after scandal showed the door to Rowland. But Sullivan quickly reinvented the office and soon was launching lampoons at Rell, whereupon doors were shut, windows were locked.

Finding himself uninvited to a recent meeting in the governor’s office on campaign finance reform, an irritated Sullivan erupted in an eight paragraph treatise addressed to the governor, “I get that you are governor and I am not. I understand and accept that you and your staff get to call the shots. But I do not understand the pattern of disrespect from your office and your staff toward me and mine."

Ooops, a Rell functionary replied -- my bad; so sorry for the unintentional oversight. But Sullivan was having none of this pretended sympathy and snorted, "There are too many honest-to-goodness oversights," a snippy response that occasioned from House Republican leader Robert Ward the unkindest cut of all.

Said Ward, “It’s the petulant, childish behavior he's been involved in for the past year. I think he is frustrated, which is understandable, that he has no political clout… He has nowhere to go. He has no political office to run for. There is no Democrat in the state who thinks he's a viable candidate for governor now. You have to recognize sometimes that legislative careers come to an end."

Napoleon would have sympathized.

Not to insert an ad here for term limits, but it ought to have occurred to Sullivan that all good things come to an end. And if there were term limits, his career in politics could easily be extended. For the problem he and other politicians face is related to political inflation, caused by too many politicians chasing too few jobs. It is often said that term limits would deprive the political theatre experienced politicians. But, in fact, very nearly the opposite is true: Term limits would simply transport experienced men and women to other positions in government, free politicians from the controlling grasp of special interest groups, introduce new blood into political parties, and open the way for real political campaigns. It is possible, for instance, to imagine Attorney General Richard Blumenthal running for governor only on the assumption that his present office is term limited.

For Sullivan, the lieutenant governor’s position has been less a stopping off place than a political coffin. But those who know him say he is a rubbery sort, certain to bounce back. Just now, Sullivan is tinkering with the notion of filling the oversized shoes of Bill Cibes, due to retire as Chancellor of the Connecticut State University system, a fake job created for him by a grateful Democratic controlled legislature after the former head of the state’s Office of Policy Management and his boss, the redoubtable Lowell Weicker, had favored the state with an income tax.

The gubernatorial campaign is a year off, but two stout-hearted Democrats, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, are already out of the gate, and no one at this point takes seriously a possible Sullivan candidacy.

If there anything sadder than a political warhorse sitting on the curb and watching the parade pass him by, it may be watching the same political warhorse, hobbled by political inflation, scouring the countryside in search of a make work job such as the position soon to be vacated by ex-political warhorse Bill Cibes.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Dodd Bill of Immunity for Journalists

Asked what he would do if he was forced to choose to betray either his friend or his country, an English wit replied that he hoped to God he would have the good sense to betray his country. This was something of a trick question anyway, the answer to which was sure to leave in its wake scads of contentious people. But the answer had illuminated what we would now call the gentleman’s “priorities.” Though no rational country would willingly have the Englishman as a citizen, who would not want to be his friend?

A bill sponsored solely by Senator Chris Dodd, the “Free Speech Protection Act of 2004,” puts journalists in the same uncomfortable situation as the hapless Englishman. Compelled to betray a source during a legal proceeding by disclosing his identity or maintaining silence and subverting justice, what would you do?

How do you like your babies -- boiled or fried?

Presently, journalists need not answer such stupid questions because the law is very plain on the point: Journalists may be found in contempt when they withhold information that may – just to pick one example out of the hat – result in the non-prosecution of the Englishman who refuses to betray his friend and consequently betrays his country.

Every citizen is under the obligation to say the truth when sworn to do so under oath. Dodd has yet to tell us why journalists should be exempt from a solemn obligation that, with few exceptions, binds all other citizens. The law, when it is not an ass, very sensibly makes exceptions: Information gathered by priests during confessions is exempted; husbands and wives are not forced to testify against each other; and persons may not be forced to give testimony at trial against themselves, if they plead the Fifth Amendment.

Dodd’s bill prevents federal agencies from sanctioning information providers who will not disclosure their sources. But the bill allows federal entities to compel other testimony under stringent conditions. Disclosure of information may be compelled only by a court, and only if the court finds that the party seeking the information has established by clear and convincing evidence that “(1) the news or information is critical and necessary to the resolution of a significant legal issue before an entity of the judicial, legislative, or executive branch of the Federal Government that has the power to issue a subpoena; (2) the news or information could not be obtained by any alternative means; and (3) there is an overriding public interest in the disclosure.”

Even from a journalistic point of view, the bill is mischievous because it makes the journalism industry beholden to Dodd and other legislators foolish enough to vote to affirm a bill that provides immunity for sources, elevating them far above the position once enjoyed by Caesar’s wife, universally acknowledged to be above criticism.

The Dodd bill, worth its weight in gold, is a huge payout to journalists, is it not? Usually, such favors are bought by special interest groups in the form of campaign contributions, but journalists may reward their pet politicians in a far different coin – by providing to them either a good or a non-critical press.

An immunity provided by politicians to the media is no less corrupting than a money pay out. Joseph Pulitzer, after whom the coveted Pulitzer Prize is named, used to say that reporters should have no friends because he understood that gratitude corrupts. And gratitude on such a massive scale corrupts absolutely.

Recent scandals in the Bush administration are instructive. If media sources could not be compelled to disgorge information necessary for prosecution, no one in the Bush administration could ever be frog marched off to jail in handcuffs for having outed a CIA agent; Times news reporter Judith Miller would never have been reproved by her editors for having become “entangled” with her source; her editors would not have been reproved by political columnist Maureen Dowd for leaving their reporter untethered; and the rest of us would have missed a farce of rare proportions.

Bad bills can only have bad consequences. Dodd’s bill, unnecessary and fraught with unforeseen dangers, ought to be frog marched off the legislative stage, preferably in handcuffs.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gubernatorial Race: It's the Economy, Stupid

Jodi Rell teared up during her announcement that she was making herself available to run again as governor. Rell’s stratospheric popularity quotient humbled her, the governor said, and she wanted everyone to know she was serious about de-horning the devil of corruption that has plagued Connecticut ever since most of us were knee high to toadstools.

Sentimentalism is the enemy of clear thought.

There is little doubt that Rell has stolen the corruption issue from the clenched teeth of the Democrats. She did this by bowing to liberals on the issue of public financing of campaigns, much to the chagrin of her fellow Republicans, and then attempting to force Democrats to swallow unpalatable conditions, such porcupines as the abolition of ad-books, guaranteed to pierce Democratic throats with painful quills, and a prohibition preventing lobbyists and contractors doing business with the state from contributing to campaigns.

But the edge Republicans have had in the past over the loyal opposition – and here, unfortunately, one must discount President George Bush – is that the GOP has had a reputation as a spending watchdog. Here again, unfortunately, one must discount former Governor John Rowland, a chief executive never averse to using the public perception as a bargaining chip with Democrats, then and now the dominant party in control of the legislature.

Rowland liked to portray himself as a firewall that prevented Democrats from spending recklessly. But the firewall was paper thin. Rowland favored tax credits, revocable at the whim of governors and legislators, over permanent cuts. The benefit of a permanent tax cut is that it produces a temporary deficit, which helps to dampen the ardor of those economically reckless politicians who prefer, by acceding to the wishes of powerful special interest groups, to spend themselves into popularity. Deficits, like nagging mothers, sometimes are successful in controlling spending – unless, of course, one is Bush or Rowland. Serious attempts at budget cutting create an economic climate that anchor Connecticut businesses to the spot and lure promising business prospects from other states, conditions that, over the long run, increase tax revenues.

The problem for Republicans is that the perception of the state GOP as being bullish on tax cuts may be changing, and there are Democrats in the field anxious to exploit any Achilles’ heal Republicans may have.

In the first serious campaign ad of the season, designed by media consultants who worked on President Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano has introduced himself to the voting public as a candidate capable of lifting the state out of its economic doldrums.

“Fifty states,” the ad intones, “but Connecticut is last in job growth… We can do better. John DeStefano. The son of a police officer. Devoted husband and father. As New Haven mayor, new jobs created, crime cut over 40 percent, drop-out rate cut over 40 percent.”

The purpose of early ads is to give shape and direction to campaigns. The gauntlet has been thrown down: It’s the economy, stupid.

But what can it mean to say that Connecticut rates last in job creation, and what are the prescriptive remedies?

Entreprenurial states in the South have stolen both jobs and entrepreneurs from anemic Northern states because the cost of doing business is cheaper there – which means that the Northeast may recover some of it lost advantage by reducing the cost of business, rather than by bribing businesses, usually by means of tax forgiveness, to stay in an area that punishes economic growth.

Connecticut in the process of paying a profitable insurance company that reported $4.2 billion in profits for the first half of this year oodles of cash, in the form of tax deferments, to move from Hartford to East Hartford, a shameful form of bribery condemned by Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer as a not so polite form of “extortion.”

Business tax deferments of this kind and tax rebates do not improve economies: They make beggars of us all.

A serious proposal to raise Connecticut from last place in job creation would cut spending and reduce taxes for all businesses and all tax payers, a message that in the past has been associated with the Republican Party.

But that message has been distorted by the last two governors, and it remains an open question whether any gubernatorial candidate whose hats now are in the ring is serious about making Connecticut’s economy competitive. The fine lines on the contender’s economic programs have not yet been inked in.

Monday, October 10, 2005

An October Primer on Campaign Finance Reform

Money, the mother’s milk of politics, is given by lobbyists, mostly to incumbents. So, what’s wrong with this?

The conventional answer is that it creates the impression that politicians are on the take. And, as we know, in politics, impressions – or is that “appearances?” – are determinative.

Here in Connecticut, some politicians have been sunk by the “appearance of corruption” torpedo, but others who frequently have accepted campaign contributions from lobbyists affected by legislation they promote have escaped serious injury.

U.S Sen. Chris Dodd says that his contributors, many from the financial sector, do not affect how he votes on issues. Contributors apparently send money to the senator as an expression of political solidarity: It is not the contribution that occasions the vote, but the vote that occasions the contribution. It’s very important in these matters to get the right horse in front of the right cart.

There are critics of campaign finance reform who say that the reforms create distortions in the political market place and do little to combat corruption. The reform cure very well may be worse than the disease.

There are hurdles to be overcome, not the least of which is a Supreme Court decision that campaign contributions are an inviolable form of free speech protected by the Constitution. However, that hurdle may gingerly be surmounted by a court prone to fanciful interpretation.

And there are other obstacles. The campaign finance reform plans now afoot all drive political parties from adequately financing politics. One school of thought holds that transparency – the publication of contributions and contributors – may be the least disruptive means of preventing incumbent politicians from falling down the rabbit hole of corruption.

The real obstacles to a healthy turnover of incumbents, according to this view, is not the stranglehold lobbyists have on political financing but gerrymandered districts, a media that fears to upset powerful incumbents they have conscripted to press their views, and the refusal to eliminate those means of filling campaign coffers incumbents do not wish to surrender – campaign revenue from ad-books, for example.

Money, like water, will always find a way. National campaign finance reform succeeded in depriving political parties of necessary funds; but it is largely responsible for the mushrooming of extra-party organizations that water ideological fellow travelers with cash. Not a good thing, say those who continue to believe that political parties are indispensable in functioning democracies.

The struggle in Connecticut appears to be waged between a chastened Gov. Jodi Rell, lifted into office after former Governor John Rowland’s resignation, and a Democratic controlled legislature that has turned a baleful eye on campaign finance reform.

That view is partly true. Leading Democrats have in the past supported the public financing of campaigns – at least, they’ve given lip service to the notion. They were taken by surprise – routed, actually – when Rell came out publicly in favor of the idea. But Rell linked public financing with other reforms, less desirable from their point of view, that will not bode well for incumbents: She proposed, for instance, a ban on contributions from contractors and others who do business with the state, as well as an end to ad-books.

That hurt! It was a spear through the heart of the mostly Democratic incumbentocracy. In fact, any reform, however ill advised, disturbs the status quo. Therefore, any reform will give a temporary advantage to Republicans.

Unsurprisingly, there is an understandable resistance to effective reform from all the usual suspects. Three groups are engaged in the battle, which may cross party lines.

The first group are those professing reform for reform’s sake. This group is convinced that the whole body of reforms will drive the devil of corruption from Connecticut’s politics. Members in good stranding are Andy Sauer, the executive director of Common Cause, energetic reform minded Democrats such as state Rep. Christopher Caruso, Republican well-wishers who hope that some reforms proposed by Rell will serve as a poison pill for Democrat incumbents, and the governor, who thinks certain kinds of contributions are corrupting, an odd confederation of interests.

The second group are incumbents who wish to retain their campaign advantages.

And the third group, negligible at this point, are those who want a healthy turnover in state government. They see rotation in office as one of the safeguards that insure, if not a pristine, perhaps a competent and responsive government.

In any rational politics, this last sober and sane group would carry the day. But no one should hold his breath waiting for sanity to shower Connecticut’s parched republic.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Vatican and Homosexuals

The Vatican wants to purge homosexuals from its seminaries, and at least one paper, The Hartford Courant, thinks this is a bad idea.

The paper does not presume to quarrel with the Vatican over dogma. Of course, most journalists, especially break-away Roman Catholics, regard dogma as irrational, faith based propositions at variance with science and enlightened opinion; so, what is the point in wasting one’s time being disputatious? The paper questions the Vatican’s “strategy” and asks “When is the Vatican going to get it?”

The Catholic Church’s strategy, is “punitive and shows a woeful misunderstanding of the genesis of the scandals that have undermined its credibility. The scandals were perpetrated by pedophile priests who preyed on young parishioners (virtually all of them boys) and got away with it, sometimes for years, thanks to an enabling hierarchy. These criminals should have been sent to jail. Instead, they were transferred to other parishes where they could prey upon a new set of victims (virtually all of them boys.)”

It should be noted that the “strategy” for dealing with pedophiliac priests recommended by the paper is far more “punitive” that the one adopted by the Vatican in dealing with homosexual behavior in Catholic seminaries. Pedophiliac priests and their enablers who winked at their crimes should be driven from the priesthood and then prosecuted and sent to jail. The Vatican’s “strategy” with respect to homosexuals would involve a screening process that would not permit the admittance of homosexuals to seminaries and, in the case of priests who already are homosexual, a restriction of duties. Whether or not one regards either strategy as practical or enlightened, certainly everyone can agree that prosecution and imprisonment is the more “punitive” sanction.

The paper therefore does not object to punitive measures as such. It recommends such measures in the case of pedophiles but not homosexuals.

According to the editorial, which relies on an unnamed source cited in a New York Times story, “To equate such unconscionable behavior (as pedophilia) only with homosexuality is akin to assuming that all heterosexuals, given the opportunity, are potential rapists.”

But it is not necessary for the church to equate the two. Its “strategy” is aimed at preventing homosexuality in seminaries. It is true that medical science tells us both heterosexuals and homosexuals may be pedophiles. Fr. Shanley of Boston was an aggressive homosexual who preyed on young boys, while the equally shameless and obscene Fr. Gehogan was not a homosexual. Most homosexuals regard pedophilia as abhorrent behavior.

But why should anyone expect the Roman Catholic Church to allow in seminaries an activity it regards as sinful, even if the activity falls short of pedophilia? The most practical way of preventing homosexual behavior in seminaries is through the restriction of admittance – particularly if one accepts the view of homosexuality current among many homosexuals and enlightened commentators.

According to the prevailing view, homosexuality is not a choice; it is determined by one’s genetic makeup. This is a view that has not – up until now – been accepted by the Vatican.

The Roman Catholic Church holds that homosexuality is not irresistible – which is why the church began to accept homosexuals to the priesthood a few decades ago on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” basis. If homosexuality was a choice, the church reasoned, then both homosexuals and heterosexuals could choose celibacy. But if one accepts the current view that homosexuality is not a choice but a genetically determined, irresistible disposition, certainly the paper would agree that a male-only seminary presents greater opportunities, if one is inclined to erotic behavior, for homosexuals. Many heterosexuals are culturally disposed to regard homosexuality as deviant behavior, though in this regard the times they are a'changing.

The real unexplored danger is that the Roman Catholic Church will accept the populist view that homosexuality is genetically determined and therefore irresistible. Celibacy is less possible for homosexuals under such circumstances, particularly since candidates for the priesthood find themselves sequestered in male-only seminaries.

Most of this has nothing to do with Roman Catholic dogma. A false populist “science” may be the demon here.

Add to this toxic ideological cocktail the possibility that "unwanted" genetic distortions may be eliminated through abortion on demand, and the future may not look bright for homosexuals. If a “homosexual gene” may be detected in fetuses prior to birth, a mother who does not wish to bring into the world a child that may be “imperfect,” as the prevailing culture judges perfection and imperfection, will have the option of aborting the fetus at any stage of birth. The Roman Catholic Church’s view on this matter – that the state has in interest in preventing abortion, except in well defined narrow cases – may serve as a necessary restraint preventing the elimination of homosexuality through feticide.

And that's a good thing.